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Canada offside with UN report on war on drugs

By admin | June 6, 2011

The StarPhoenix June 3, 2011

Its ranks include a former secretary of state for the United States, a past secretary general of the UN, recent heads of state for Switzerland, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, and Greece’s current prime minister.

Hardly the kind of basement-dwelling potheads one might expect to come to the conclusion that the 50year-old global anti-drug strategy has been a colossal failure.

A report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy found that not only has the “war on drugs” caused untold misery to millions by escalating the level of violence in the industry, violating human rights, contributing to the spread of disease and making treatment strategies difficult to implement, but it’s had little success in stemming the spread of drug abuse.

“The global war on drugs has failed, with devastating consequences for individuals and societies around the world,” begins the report’s executive summary.

The revelation isn’t new. Science and medical journals, social scientists, university researchers, and even government agencies from several countries have concluded the same.

What sets the commission report apart is that the group was established by the very UN agencies that are responsible for oversight of the world’s collective drug strategy. Its members are a Who’s Who of current or former high-ranking government officials – including the likes of George Schultz, former president Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and Paul Volcker, former chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Given the power these commissioners once held, the report is an indictment of their own policies.

And while the report doesn’t go so far as to suggest legalization of the narcotics industry, it makes it clear that the continued criminalization of drug users is a reprehensible and destructive strategy that’s guaranteed to fail.

It also concludes that the world’s responsibility to switch from its failed policies is clearly urgent. While the commission doesn’t advocate a global approach, it says countries would be better off heeding the science rather than chasing the addicts.

For example, the study cites a report from Canadian researchers who looked into the impact of increased law enforcement on drug-market related violence. The heavier the hand of the law, the greater the gang violence, it found.

“The existing evidence suggests that drug-related violence and high homicide rates are likely a natural consequence of drug prohibition, and that increasingly sophisticated and well-resourced methods of disrupting drug distribution networks may unintentionally increase violence,” the B.C.-based researchers concluded.

And it wasn’t only in Canada where this evidence is clear.

A study from Europe indicated that, although the Netherlands has had a liberal policy toward drug use, it also has the lowest ratio of injection drug users of the EU-15.

The commission report comes and an inopportune time for Canada’s Conservative government, which has been fighting the mitigation efforts of supervised injection sites such as Vancouver’s Insite.

In fact, the 11 recommendations by this UN commission reflect closely the drug strategy Canada promoted before the Conservatives took office.

Once again, while the world is migrating reluctantly to where the scientific evidence is taking it, Canada seems hell-bent on going in the opposite direction. This could exacerbate the country’s reputation abroad if Canada’s allies accept the premise of this report.

Among the recommendations is that the UN and its leading countries must show the way in reforming global drug policy.

“This means promoting an effective approach based on evidence, supporting countries to develop drug policies that suit their context and meet their needs, and ensuring coherence among various UN agencies, policies, and conventions.”

Canada can ill afford to further marginalize itself globally by pushing ideological policies that run counter to the interests of its own citizens and are seen as damaging to the world.

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